Principles of meaningful youth participation

We were most Impressed with the set of (draft) guidelines put together by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program on the “Principles of Meaningful Youth Participation”. Working in the sphere of youth-led development both in Sri Lanka and internationally, we have encountered two basic views among young people in their understanding of youth participation in decision and policy-making. Some see this as a collective bargaining tool for special privileges while others see it being a critical part of consultative decision making, leading to a better overall outcome for everyone.

Most at Beyond Borders fall into the later category. At the end of the day, youth participation in policy making isn’t about cheap bus fares, it’s about making better policies or initiatives which actually ‘work’.

We say, if you are designing a policy or a program for women, include women in that process. If you are designing a policy or a program for fisherman, then include fisherman. Likewise if you are taking a decision which affects young people, include youth in that process. It’s not necessarily because young people have a ‘right’ to be included in this, but if for nothing else, it would make your policy or program better. Who else would know better about the situation than people who’s actually living it?

On this, the compilation from the CLPP would be a great asset for anyone working on youth related issues. The following is an excerpt from the official document which can be downloaded here. This is a work in progress, The CLPP invites young people working on these issues to contribute to make these principles more representative.

  1. Meaningful youth participation is essential to ensure that programmes, policies and services sufficiently address the needs of young people

Effective programming must reflect the needs of young people and can only do so through full participation of young people at all levels of program development. Thus, young people must be fully and meaningfully involved at all levels in the planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes, policies and services related to youth issues and aimed at youth. Including young people in meaningful, substantive, decision-making roles in policy development will result in more effective programs, policies and services.

  1. Young people have a valuable contribution to make to society and must be given opportunities for their voices to be heard, recognized, respected and integrated in all policy and decision-making processes

Young people are in the best position to identify, assess and articulate their needs and realities. As such, it is important that young people occupy an equitable seat at decision-making tables to represent their perspectives. In addition, youth voices should be included beyond their capacity for identifying and talking about youth-specific needs, since youth perspectives bring important value to such discussions. It is important for young people’s perspectives to receive equal consideration as those of others.

  1. A commitment to training and building capacities of young people is essential for effective youth participation

Young people generally have less experience in decision-making processes, especially in higher-level decision-making venues. Therefore, it is vital for young people to have access to training and capacity-building opportunities to develop the necessary skills and knowledge for effective participation in decision-making processes. Support from older allies is a key element for these capacity building opportunities.

Youth leadership development programs can be an effective and more beneficial way of creating capacity building opportunities for young people. Such types of programs emphasize developing leadership amongst young people rather than focusing on already accomplished young leaders. This not only provides capacity building opportunities for more young people but also gives space for their participation to be less tokenistic and representative.

  1. Tokenism and consultation are insufficient forms of youth participation.

Inviting young people to observe decision-making processes without conferring equitable decision-making authority is not meaningful youth participation. Tokenism (when young people appear to be given a voice, but have little choice about how they participate and limited or no influence in decision-making) is actually detrimental to meaningful youth participation, as it does not treat young people as equal actors in decision-making processes. Consultation is useful in some contexts, but is not a true form of meaningful youth participation, because young people are only able to advise or consult without influence over the final decision-making process.

Tokenistic participation of young people also creates representation issues, as “youth” becomes a singular identity. For example, inviting one young person to represent all young people does not reflect the diversity that exists amongst youth. Effective youth participation requires recognition on all parts that young people have intersectional identities and possess a range of experience and expertise. These aspects should be integrated in the discourse around effective youth participation and steps must be taken to encourage young people to participate in decision-making not only about youth-specific issues, but also other broader issues.

  1. Youth-led initiatives should be supported

Youth-led initiatives are the most effective at conveying genuine youth perspectives. As such, they should be supported, encouraged and integrated into broader decision-making processes. Strategies should be developed and implemented to strengthen partnerships between youth-led initiatives and youth-focused.

  1. Decision-making processes must be planned with due consideration to young people’s realities

Young people’s realities present certain specific limitation and conditions that might hinder their participation in decision-making processes. For example:

    • Young people often have fewer financial means, which places limitations on their capacity to pay for travel arrangements, materials, equipment, etc.
    • Young people in school have schedules that differ from most full-time employees. To facilitate meaningful youth participation, it is important to organize meetings and events that respect students’ school schedules.
    • Young people sometimes require parental/guardian consent either legally or culturally to participate in initiatives or events. Decision-making bodies should keep this in mind when making arrangements for youth participation
    • For local travel, young people often do not have personal vehicles. Decision-making bodies should therefore schedule meetings in locations that are easily accessible by public transportation or should make travel arrangements for young people
    • For international travel, young people may have a harder time acquiring travel documents, such as passports and visas. Thus, they may require additional support when making logistical and travel arrangements
    • Thus, resources should be made available for youth participation from funders, government and larger civil society organizations
  1. Meaningful youth participation requires a serious commitment by all actors in a decision-making body.

In order to meaningfully integrate young people into decision-making processes in a sustainable manner, decision-making bodies must examine the organizational structure in which they work so as to reduce or eliminate the barriers to meaningful youth participation. This will often require certain changes to the structure or working methods of the decision-making body. All actors must commit to adopting the necessary changes in order to facilitate youth participation.

You may contribute to the document by filling this feedback form and emailing it to lmb04[at]


Posted on 07/08/2008, in Events-Activities-Announcements, Opinions, Sri Lanka, Youth-Culture-Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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